We are more than the sum of our parts. This paraphrase of Aristotle* sums me up, especially given the many broken parts that come with being a spoonie. Dr. Maya Angelou beautifully embodied this concept that speaks of not being limited by our limits nor defeated by our defeats. The desire to be more and the need to overcome are universal, they encapsulate what it is to be human – as did Maya, in word and example. She refused to be limited to her parts, from the parts of her born of horror as well as hope to the parts she played in helping us face our horrors and find our own hope.
“You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.”
— Maya Angelou
The difficult and ground-breaking parts she played in her own life, including teen mother and cable car conductor, along with the world-changing parts she played in our lives, through the arts and activism, are immortalized in her writing and the part it will continue to play in the human experience. By sharing her own experiences, with as much honesty as hope, Maya Angelou exemplified for all of us the ability to become more than the sum of our experience. Through her shared parts and experiences, she not only exalted our individual humanity but expressed our shared human condition.
Maya was living proof that our stars aren’t fixed and our lives aren’t dictated. Our circumstances aren’t always in our control but what we become within, beyond, and despite those circumstances is. Whatever we’re in the process of overcoming, whether it haunts us like the childhood trauma she endured or overtakes our lives like the chronic illness/es I’m fighting, when we remember that we’re all struggling – that we’re all fighting something – we realize that we’re not fighting alone.
“You may not control all the events that happen to you,
but you can decide not to be reduced by them.”
— Maya Angelou, Letter to My Daughter
She understood, and taught by example, that our individual insights reveal universal truths. My experience is utterly unique yet it has elements that connect to yours, and we can learn from each other, and we are the same; we are human and, in that shared humanity, there is hope. Maya survived unthinkable struggles by choosing to thrive, overcame hardship by allowing it to fuel her, fought prejudice by becoming a loving activist, and – in perhaps her most compassionate act of all – wrote it all down for us.
“…I’ve learned that making a ‘living’ is not the same thing as making a ‘life.’
I’ve learned that life sometimes gives you a second chance.
I’ve learned that you shouldn’t go through life with a catcher’s mitt on both hands;
you need to be able to throw something back.
I’ve learned that whenever I decide something with an open heart,
I usually make the right decision.
I’ve learned that even when I have pains, I don’t have to be one.
I’ve learned that every day you should reach out and touch someone;
people love a warm hug, or just a friendly pat on the back.
I’ve learned that I still have a lot to learn. I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
— Maya Angelou, I’ve Learned
Maya Angelou makes us feel hope. She said, “I would like to be known as an intelligent woman, a courageous woman, a loving woman, a woman who teaches by being.” Not only will she always be known as intelligent, courageous, and loving but her intelligence, courage, and love taught us that we can be too; she taught us by being true to herself, she taught us to be our true selves. When we heed her heart, we learn that we’re enough.. “You alone are enough, you have nothing to prove to anybody.” May our marvelous muse rest in peace for, through her, we have indeed been Touched by an Angel:
“…We are weaned from our timidity
In the flush of love's light
we dare be brave
And suddenly we see
that love costs all we are
and will ever be.
Yet it is only love
which sets us free.”
— Maya Angelou, Touched by an Angel
Her “mission in life was not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.” In so doing, she taught us how. Maya’s our angel now, an angel of hope who lives on in her poetic legacy, encouraging us to live and love fully in turn. *“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” ― Aristotle
The City by the Bay invites you in with historic landmarks and remarkable architecture but asks you to stay with openair artistry and café tables. It’s a city built for walking; just as you haven’t really had coffee until you’ve had a quality roast brewed well, you can’t truly appreciate San Francisco from a car.* Its sidewalk cafés and alleyways, its unexpected parks and street art, the artisans selling their wares along with the more planned popup happenings make outings an adventure. There’s always a farmers’ market or craft fair, with food trucks and impromptu entertainment to be found. From Peace Plaza in Japantown to the thrift stores in the Mission District, from free museums along the Embarcadero to interactive music stores and bookstores in the Haight and North Beach, there are new discoveries to be made throughout the different neighborhoods. Each journey through this diverse mecca is as interesting as the destinations it offers.
“I left my heart in San Francisco
High on a hill, it calls to me
To be where little cable cars
Climb halfway to the stars!”
— Douglass Cross
Growing up in a small town, my many walks never abated my wanderlust. There was nowhere new to go, and not enough happening in the few public spaces there were. This is why California’s Central Valley kids spend their time in vineyards, drinking – which would almost seem poetic if they weren’t raisin vineyards. Given my rebellious spirit, it’s just as well that I grew up with so few options yet I never felt at home there. The one redeeming quality my so-called hometown has is its proximity to other places; mountains to the east, the ocean to the west, and San Francisco to the north. Escaping every chance I got started with high school road trips and became impulsive getaways that continued from the other direction upon moving to Oregon with my Hunny years later. Magical Mr. Mistoffelees, a furbaby who’s since crossed over his own bridge, would purr with me as he stretched along the dashboard in front of me when I could no longer resist a drive to the city. I’d inevitably have to turn right back but even the shortest visits left me feeling more myself.
My Hunny and I share a deep love for this welcoming city. He spent his childhood Thanksgivings here and was initially stationed at its now defunct ship yard when he joined the Navy out of high school. San Francisco was our go-to getaway, we celebrated anniversaries in the Theatre District, birthdays at Mason Street Wine Bar, and New Years in Union Square; the city itself has been our vacation home. My draw to our Sanctuary City goes beyond the nostalgia or shared memories and runs deeper than the undeniable affinity it inspires. The concept of home can be a difficult one yet ultimately speaks to belonging. My grandparents’ cabin provided the only real sense of home I had but, for all the love felt there and as much as I love that mountain community, I was nevertheless out of place. This mountain girl will always love nature but thrives on the inherent energy of human activity – I’m a city girl at heart. Born across the bay, my connection to the Bay Area has always been strong despite not growing up here.
“No city invites the heart to come to life as San Francisco does.
Arrival in San Francisco is an experience in living.”
— William Saroyan
I don’t remember my first visit but, for once, the lack of memory isn’t due to my damaged brain as I was in utero. I’m a product of the Summer of Love; my mum dared dream of a more fulfilling life born of that promise and moved north that year. The following year, I was born. Proving the impact of environment, even via the womb, I became a neo-hippie far removed from my pre-birth days at Haight and Ashbury. Momma had long since returned to the Central Valley, leaving her hippie days behind as well. Before her return though, during that uneasy time living just outside the City by the Bay, any chance to cross the bridge became a saving grace. In turn, while I was growing up stifled in central California, trips to this city of my heart were my salvation. As my Hunny and I created some of our best moments in my city by the bay, it proved the one constant in our nomadic life and nowhere else have I ever felt at home. Even my brother, without such a formative association, made a home here for a time. So – despite being very different people on vastly disparate paths – my mum, brother, Hunny, and I each found salvation across a bridge or two on a peninsula that defies description. San Francisco is hometown to none of us yet a home of sorts to all and, best of all, finally my home.
“Somehow the great cities of America have taken their places
in a mythology that shapes their destiny:
Money lives in New York. Power sits in Washington.
Freedom sips cappuccino in a sidewalk café in San Francisco.”
— Joe Flower
*An open-top bus works though.. Tours, street cars, and trains will help you discover the walks you want to take.
“Hold fast to your dreams for, without them,
life is a broken winged bird that cannot fly.”
— Langston Hughes
I’m the happy result of an unlikely event, a planned teenage pregnancy. Unhappy with her life, my mum made a bold change; she married at 16 and had me a year later. Momma hadn’t found a better life but she had realized her dream of becoming a mother and her brave pursuit of something more gave us each other, and San Francisco. From that nontraditional beginning, through impromptu poetry readings to her own artistic endeavors, she raised me first and foremost to be creative. That gift is as important to me as her unconditional love and unwavering belief in me. Creativity as an end, not just a means, has enabled me to see possibilities beyond my limitations as a spoonie. Momma not only taught me to dream but to dream creatively.
Our mums bring us into being, guide us as we grow, support us if we’re lucky, and befriend us if we’re ridiculously lucky. I’ve been ludicrously lucky but, then again, I started life as a dream come true – what a legacy!? Momma wonderfully captures our creative journey in her response to this poem,* “We’ve both been through all kinds of crazy since Camp Nelson (playing at the creek!), & Winnie the Pooh curtains, & huggable Eeyores – not to mention coffee & books at the Upstart Crow – but what we found there has brought us through the tough times, & lit up our memories of the good times, & added the magic!!” She’s described me as her alter-ego and she’s my inner compass; my mum and I are more than compatible, we’re complementary.
“A mother is the truest friend we have, when trials heavy and sudden, fall upon us; when adversity takes the place of prosperity; when friends who rejoice with us in our sunshine desert us; when trouble thickens around us, still will she cling to us, and endeavor by her kind precepts and counsels to dissipate the clouds of darkness, and cause peace to return to our hearts.”
Black, liquid hope sold here.* Coffee has been in my life since the caffeinated trio who raised me finally acquiesced and allowed me to join them in their marvelous morning routine. My “coffee” was mostly milk, of course, but the milk-to-coffee ratio gradually reversed – with the coffee increasing as my height did. Black coffee was my drink of choice by the time I was well over five feet tall and the pain-relieving, happy-making escape that each mug provided was no longer reserved just for mornings. Not only did this miraculous hot beverage provide myriad “me” moments, it was clearly good for not just my mental wellbeing but my physical health as well. My chronic pain and coffee’s caffeine made us a good fit yet that’s only part of its allure.
An essential element of coffee’s goodness is its aroma, which is enhanced by warmth. A nice spot of tea also provides that comforting combination. I had a well-rounded upbringing thanks to my anglophile mum, who properly follows her morning coffee with afternoon tea. One of the benefits of tea is its variety, making it possible to opt for less caffeine without compromising flavor. Between the bean and leaf, there’s bound to be a caffeine-flavor combo to suit everyone and there’s nothing like a hot beverage when you need a moment to yourself. Cold drinks work yet savoring helps us slow down for a bit, and the sipping a hot beverage requires has a centering effect. A hot drink is beneficial year-round too as it’s scrumptious if you’re cold and helps you adapt to the heat if you’re hot.
Find moments throughout your day – whatever the drink and whatever you’re doing – as we all need a breather, or ten. You don’t have to be still with your beverage for it to be therapeutic but you’ll be better off for every pause you let it create. Coffee really is a great way to start the day, especially if you take that time for yourself before getting caught up in the day’s busyness. While my beloved bean provides a pick-me-up when needed, tea can provide a curative calm. Tea comes with its own rich history. The simplest of tea ceremonies are powerful in action and intention. It’s the intention behind an action that gives it meaning which is why taking a coffee or tea break offers the most return for the least effort. Each equally wondrous in its own right, coffee or tea is therapy in a mug.
Then there are the health benefits:
Coffee in moderation and tea reduce heart disease risk.
Coffee protects against gallstones and kidney stones.
Coffee aids in fiber intake and fighting asthma.
Coffee & tea reduce the risk of Type 2 Diabetes.
Coffee & tea protect against liver disease.
Coffee & tea have powerful antioxidants.
Tea promotes alertness and relaxation.
Tea helps prevent tooth decay.
Coffee & tea are hydrating.
Coffee protects the brain.
Caffeine reduces pain.
Given my lifelong love affair with coffee, my “coffeesister” moniker is no surprise but there’s more to it. From the fellowship my family’s always shared over hot beverages to the friends found sharing a cuppa with someone, I believe in the ritual of it. I consider coffee and tea tangible friendship.. Science fiction guru, Robert A. Heinlein, created the concept of “water brothers” in his book Stranger in a Strange Land. Those who “share water” affirm mutual trust, understanding, and acceptance. Imagine feeling that way about ourselves, much less someone else. What better way to start than by opening our hearts, filling our mugs, and taking the time to simply be? As a coffeesister; I believe in sharing water, the aromatherapy of a hot brew, and the importance of being kind to each other – starting with ourselves:
“Coffee [or tea] is real good when you drink it, it gives you time to think. It’s a lot more than just a drink; it’s something happening. Not as in hip, but like an event, a place to be, but not like a location, but like somewhere within yourself. It gives you time, but not actual hours or minutes, but a chance to be, like be yourself, and have a second cup.”
— Gertrude Stein
*This is proposed as a coffee house name in the Gilmore Girls episode “I Solemnly Swear”
Two decades & more now past
Cosmos glimpsed beside a bonfire
A decision made, never to be undone
Change does come with time.. or should
Shifts & nuances pass as conclusions remain
Doubt everything, trust no one, yet truth’s salient
Hesitance set aside that night on the beach
Life not only claimed but purposefully
Each choice unique to the maker
Free to explore once grounded
Seeing beyond myself; open
Possibilities lead full circle
Chaos that lends control
My life-changing bonfire was on a beach in San Luis Obispo, California and that life-changing decision was essentially to give a damn about myself. It may even keep me from being damned but that wasn’t the point. I chose to accept me, and the interconnectivity of creation. To honor my belief in a bigger picture, I not only need to continue questioning but question more. By accepting that there is more to life than I can readily know, it becomes a driving force to know what I can and that’s only possible through science. My faith in a larger truth is also a choice to explore all truths. As scientists would – and theologians should – confirm, each answer leads to another question. Thank God too because there’s a multiverse to be discovered:
“Science wants to know the mechanism of the universe, religion* the meaning. The two cannot be separated. …it is unreasonable to think we already know enough about the natural world to be confident about the totality of forces.”
— Charles Townes, 1964 Nobel physics laureate
*Religion may not be the best word; although I’m a woman of faith, I don’t consider myself religious.
I’d rather be hated for who I am than loved for who I’m not.* The real hope is to be loved for exactly who we are, yet it starts with us. We must learn to appreciate our true selves before anyone else can but, in our desire to connect, we may find ourselves going along to get along. People pleasing, avoiding conflict, self-doubt – whatever the reason – hesitating to be ourselves will leave us feeling uneasy anyhow. It also makes it harder to know ourselves, much less love ourselves; it’s harder for anyone to know us.. How can we find similar souls unless we let others see who we really are?
“It is better to be hated for what you are
than to be loved for something you are not.”
— André Gide
Being loved is good, being loved for the right reasons is better, and being able to love yourself is the best. When we’re true to ourselves, to our convictions, we become more confident. Each time we choose to be real instead of play it safe, we learn more about who we are and who we want to be. That’s where the power, passion, freedom, and joy come in; the excitement of existing lies in being unique, and we all are! Every chance you get, learn something new about yourself by choosing what feels right for you. Nothing compares to being you so remember:
“Be yourself. If you water yourself down to please people or to fit in or to not offend anyone, you lose the power, the passion, the freedom and the joy of being uniquely you. It’s much easier to love yourself when you are being yourself.”
— Dan Coppersmith, co-author of The Self-Esteem Playbook
*Used by Kurt Cobain in his suicide note, this paraphrase of André Gide’s quotation is frequently attributed to Cobain.